The big winner at the 58th Grammy Awards ceremony on Monday night might not be any of the musicians who took home awards but the music industry’s full-court press promoting cultural diversity.
While the motion picture academy is under fire because of its recent full slate of acting nominees lacking a single person of color, the Recording Academy heaped awards and precious national TV performance slots on national TV to a long roster of Anglo, African American, Latino, Asian, straight, gay, young and veteran performers over the course of the 3 1/2 hour show from Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Grammys 2016: Full coverage | Red carpet | Show highlights | Nominees and winners | Top nominees
Numbers wise, country-turned-pop superstar Taylor Swift took three more Grammys, including album of the year for her blockbuster “1989” album.
Much of the discussion ahead of Monday night’s ceremony swirled around what it would mean depending on whether Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar or Swift took album honors this year. That discussion gained gravitas after the Academy Awards nominations surfaced in January, prompting another bashing under the #OscarSoWhite social media campaign.
When Swift’s name was called, she rose from her seat, walked to Lamar and gave him a hug, then took the stage and spoke on the theme of female artists and the extra challenges they often face.
“As the first woman to win album of the year twice, I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undermine your success or who will try to take credit for your accomplishments or your fame,” a less-than-veiled response to rapper Kanye West’s new song in which he claimes to have made her famous.
“But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you,” she continued, “someday when you get where you are going, you’ll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there, and that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
The omnimpresent dance hit “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and singer Bruno Mars was named record of the year, and British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran collected song of the year for his ode to eternal love, “Thinking Out Loud.”
The Grammys nominations reflected considerable race and gender diversity, but some observers worried that major wins for Swift would bring criticism of the recording academy for a similar lack of diversity at the top.
Yet displays of racial, gender, age and geographic diversity were all over this year’s show. At the outset of the ceremony, host LL Cool J said, “With all that divides us today, our shared love of music unites us.”
That served as a theme reiterated in various ways through the evening. The Grammy show emcee was joined by the host of “The Late Late Show with James Corden” to present a tribute to R&B-pop singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, feted in a medley of his hits by a mixed bag of musicians including John Legend, Demi Lovato, Luke Bryan, Meghan Trainor, Tyrese Gibson and Richie himself.
Racial issues were central to two of the show’s most powerful performances: the remote telecast from the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York, where the cast of the acclaimed hip-hop musical “Hamilton” delivered the opening number live, and Lamar’s powerhouse treatment of two songs from his nominated “To Pimp a Butterfly” album.
Lamar collected the Grammy for rap album, one of only eight awards handed out on camera, among 83 total categories this year.
During his performance, Lamar made his entrance at the front of a line of dancers and singers, all outfitted in prison blues and shackled in chains on a set built like jail cells. He rapped two songs from the album: “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright,” explosively pounding one of his rhymes about “the hatred for the world to see,” and repeating a refrain of “We gon be alright.”
CBS censors bleeped a line that includes the N-word and the lyric “we hate po-po [police], wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho.”
“First off, all glory to God that’s for sure,” the Compton rapper said in collecting his gramophone statue. He gave thanks “for taking these kids out of Copmton and putting them righ here on the stage to be the best we can be. We’ll never forget that,” adding, “This is for hip hop, this is for Ice Cube, this is for Snooop Dogg and Doggy Style.”
Immediately after his on-camera win, the White House tweeted: “Shoutout to @KendrickLamar and all the artists at the #Grammys working to build a brighter future. #MyBrothersKeeper.”
Swift, who came into the ceremony with seven nominations, collected two early on, taking the music video Grammy with her high-gloss revenge-fantasy parody “Bad Blood,” and also won the pop album award for “1989.” Swift became the youngest album of the year winner in Grammys history when she took the award at age 19 for her 2008 album, “Fearless.”
While preparing for the her performance at the evening telecast, Swift called in to accept the pop album award to her friend and songwriting collaborator Jack Antonoff, who Tweeted: “1989 just won pop vocal album!!!! accepted it with t on the phone : )albums made in small apartments win grammys. Into it.”
She also scored a rare achievement of nominations in all three of the four general categories (not including new artist), with nominations in record, album and song fields. So did her friend, occasional songwriting collaborator and former opening act Ed Sheeran, whose latest album “X” put him in the running with her in each of those three areas.
Some groans went out when Trainor was named best new artist, seemingly late by a year. She rose to fame in 2014 on the runaway success of her single “All About That Bass” but landed the new artist nomination only in this year’s Grammy ceremony because her debut album, “Title,” wasn’t released until almost half a year after the single first brought her to the public’s attention.
All the year’s general category album nominees generated largely positive critical reviews, as tabulated on the review aggregate website Metacritic.com. From the score of 74 (on a scale of 100) for The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness,” the ratings increase to Swift’s “1989” (scoring 76), Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color” (80), Stapleton’s “Traveller” (85) and a near-perfect 96 for Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
Those scores, however, have no direct connection to Recording Academy voting, therefore don’t necessarily correlate with who takes home the album of the year Grammy.
But it does suggest that as time has gone by, the academy’s selection process has become more in sync with music critics’ tastes, which often have been at drastic odds over the years.
The show was heavier than usual with tributes to recently departed musicians. Typically the show organizers present a video scroll for music world figures who died during the previous 12 months, but there was an unusual run of pop and rock star deaths that resulted in performances segments saluting David Bowie (by Lady Gaga), Glenn Frey (Jackson Browne and surviving members of the Eagles), B.B. King (Bonnie Raitt, Chris Stapleton and Gary Clarke Jr.) and Motorhead front man Lemmy Kilmister (Hollywood Vampires with Alice cooper, Johnny Depp and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry).
After a brouhaha in 2011 among Justin Bieber’s fans when the Canadian teen idol lost out in the new artist category when the award went to jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, this year Beliebers had reason to celebrate his win for “Where Are U Now,” the dance recording he made with DJs Skrillex and Diplo, and which they performed on the show.
The 2011 loss had been a humbling moment for Bieber, and in returning to perform this year, his manager Scooter Braun said ““He’s just honored to be a musician playing among his peers,” He’s not interested in the accolades, or getting caught up in the praise. That’s where he got into trouble before. He just wants to be playing with other musicians, not the star of the show, not the phenomenon.”
Singer-guitarist Glen Campbell’s public struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease has generated intense public interest in recent years. On Monday, the companion album to the film documentary on his journey with Alzheimer’s, “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me,” took the Grammy award for compilation soundtrack.
Julian Raymond, the album’s producer and Campbell’s songwriting collaborator on his most recent albums, said “God Bless Glen Campbell.” After thanking the record company, filmmaker James Keach and his family, Raymond also expressed gratitude “to the Grammys for supporting Glen, his work and legacy for all these decades.”
Stapleton capped a dramatic year in which he released his debut solo album in May, drew considerable critical acclaim, then wowed audiences at the Country Music Assn. Awards in Nashville in November with his performance with Justin Timberlake, which helped catapult his album “Traveller” into the national Top 10.
After winning for country album, Stapleton said, “I’d like to thank Taylor Swift for glitter bombing me before,” then turned serious, adding, “This is something you never ever dream of, and I’m super grateful for it.”
His former bandmates in the boundary-pushing group the SteelDrivers also collected a Grammy for bluegrass album, awarded for their “Muscle Shoals Recordings” CD.
The Grammy Awards are bestowed by the Recording Academy, which has about 22,000 members including musicians, record company personnel, managers, producers, engineers and other music industry professionals. About 13,000 of those are voting members who determine the outcome of the annual awards.
To be eligible, recordings had to be released between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015.
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